The Other Side of the Scanner

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Keywords: Scanning, operations, ECM, capture, human factors

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What happens on either side of a document scanning process?

Well, actually ... A lot.

The irony is that most of the time the people and processes that live on either side of the scanner are oblivious to each other.

The question is - Does this matter?

The answer is - (as usual) - it depends.

If the goal is a seamless operation there might be a need to have an end to end document capture, document management, workflow and archive solution. Which is commonly known as an Enterprise Content Management (ECM) solution. Then Yes.

If the people on both sides of the scanner know what the other side needs and a little bit of what the other side is up against they can work together to achieve mutual success.

Compare with:

  • Your Car: do you need to know when, where and how the oil was turned into gasoline.
  • Your Newspaper: same question for trees and pulp mills.
  • Your Water: do you need to know which tributaries combined to make your drinking water .

The most common answer is no. You, like most people, are interested in the end result. You turn on a pump,  you open your front door, you open a spigot, and the aforementioned items are just there.

imageDocument Scanning is a lot like that. Front end scan operators just want to do a great job - by being efficient and effective. End users just want the information in the time frame and format that exactly meets their needs.

As a brief, albeit incomplete list, of tasks that scan operators and end users deal with see below. I used an example of an accounting clerk, but it could just as easily been any other knowledge worker that needs to complete a task.

Scan Operators

End User - Accounting



  • Get the right boxes
  • Remove documents
  • Remove staples or paper clips
  • Prep the docs for scanning
  • Scan the docs
  • Index
  • Verify
  • Re-scan / index as applicable
  • Re-assemble document sets
  • Replace staples / paper clips
  • Put back in box
  • Move on to next box

Old model - manual retrieval

  • Go to the file room or cart
  • Retrieve the right files
  • Go back to your desk
  • Work on files
  • Return to file room or cart

New model – ECM with scanning solutions

  • Good - Start up ECM application, click around to find the right folder, find the file
  • Better – Click on the specific Line of Business application that has a queue to retrieve next task
  • Best - The next task on the priority list is pushed to you.

Q - Is there a call to action here? 
A – Yes. Being cognizant of the person on the other side of the scanner can make everyone’s job a little easier. If done right the scan operations and the end user operations can be streamlined which can lead companies toward better cost controls, higher profitability and a stronger chance of adhering to compliance efforts.

See Daniel Antion's AIIM blog post and Remember – They Have a Day Job. Everyone has a role to play. The better you can adapt to the various roles that make the complete end-to-end process the more productive, efficient and happy the organization can be.

This post was initially inspired by Rai Wasner of Kollabria and written on the San Francisco BART while traveling from the Microsoft offices in downtown San Francisco to the SFO airport.


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Michael Benayoun

Jeff, I agree with most of your article. However, I would argue that the "black box" analogy with cars or newspapers does not always apply. In fact, when we talk about traditional batch scanning, you are definitely right. A high volume of documents somehow make it to a mail room or scanning center, and are eventually turned into indexed electronic documents for end users to interact with on the other end. However, we see more and more of a need for true in-process scanning where a lower volumes of documents are scanned in an ad hoc fashion by knowledge workers themselves. This was not possible until recently as the solutions lacked in usability but the advent of thin-client and seamlessly integrated distributed/mobile capture solutions along with ubiquitous capture devices (lightweight scanners, MFPs and iPhone/iPad), knowledge workers can now truncate their documents as soon as they are created.
Even though the cost of distributed and mobile scanning solutions can typically be justified by the shipping cost savings alone, there are obviously a number of additional benefits. I will mention just one as an example:
I just applied for a mortgage and I see myself calling or sending emails to my mortgage broker (at least) once a day to know where we're at in terms of the application. Wouldn't it be nice to keep the knowledge workers and the customers in the loop in terms of where they stand in the process? Some business processes are critical to organizations and in the digital age in which we're living, they can't afford to continue with the "black box" concept. Sure, I am not interested to know how my documents are processed, but as a customer, I want and I expect more from the businesses I interact with.
Electronic bill payment and presentment has become the norm over the past few years, and we can't imagine doing business with a bank or with a utility company that does not give the option to go paperless. Chase just paved the way for true mobile banking with QuickDeposit (check deposit via iPhone app), and in a few years, we won't imagine doing business with a bank that doesn't allow this.
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This post and comment(s) reflect the personal perspectives of community members, and not necessarily those of their employers or of AIIM International